A new CNN piece examines the history of no-fault divorce, asking the very good question: "Why do some conservatives want to get rid of it?" Because that is a thing now. As Republican-controlled state legislatures take steps to effectively ban abortion and birth control alike, a portion of the same movement has been giving the side-eye to getting rid of no-fault divorce laws.
The "issue," if one can call it that, is getting more attention because House Republicans decided on a certified full-tilt godbotherer to be the new speaker of the House, and that godbotherer has very strong opinions on the matter.
Newly minted House Speaker Mike Johnson has been a vocal opponent of no-fault divorce, which allows couples to obtain a divorce without proving fault — and without both parties agreeing to the split. In a 2016 sermon, he claimed it turned the United States into a “completely amoral society.”
No-fault divorce has been with us for a mere half-century; like Roe v. Wade, it dates back to a time when married American women couldn't open their own bank accounts without a husband's permission, much less divorce an abusive spouse without being wrung through a legal system designed to protect the abusers.
But no-fault divorce has been an unalloyed good. No, really: As the CNN story explains, a new framework for divorces that requires no proof of adultery, abuse, or other wrongdoing simplifies the process, reduces trauma (including for the children,) and avoids the need for couples to come up with fraudulent reasons for a divorce that both parties want. But mostly, it's had a dramatic impact on household violence.
Since 1969, studies have shown no-fault divorce correlates with a reduction in female suicides and a reduction in intimate partner violence. A 2004 paper by economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolvers found an 8 to 16% decrease in female suicides after states enacted no-fault divorce laws. They also noted a roughly 30% decrease in intimate partner violence among both women and men, and a 10% drop in women murdered by their partners.
So there you go: It turns out that misogynistic, racist European assholes did not perfect human governance back in the 16th and 17th centuries, in their spare time between bloodlettings and witch hunts.
Unless, of course, you don't want to let victims get out of abusive marriages?
Yup—there's the catch. What CNN doesn't do a good job of explaining is the question implicit in the title: Why do religious conservatives want to do away with no-fault divorce laws? There’s no answer that isn’t premised entirely on abstraction and hand-waving.
We get the raving of some fringe figure muttering about "defendants" in divorces being "deprived of life, liberty and property without due process" and that's just pointless gibberish, right there. But the only real explanation we get is that some believe "unilateral divorce degrades the American family unit," and that "Some conservative Christians in particular have fought against no-fault divorce because they believe that divorce is unbiblical and marriage ordained by God."
Okay. So ... don't get one, then? How is this a problem for the rest of us?
We have established a system in this country by which you are free to declare anything you want to be biblical or unbiblical—and you can go absolutely nuts with that, if you're willing to live with the looks you'll get. But your own little spittle-flecked declarations are not supposed to infringe on anyone else's right to tell you to Actually, Fuck Off With That.
Why then, on a fundamental level, do any "conservatives" care whether people who are not them can get divorced without going through extensive judicial review? What does the judicial review part have to do with the "biblical" part? If divorces are going to be permitted at all, which indeed is something many religious conservatives continue to object to, why is "no-fault" divorce even a hair worse than the other version?
We have hard evidence that no-fault divorce (and divorce in general) reduces household violence, murders, and suicides. Arguments against that consist of muttering about "men's rights" being harmed in allowing it. We have evidence that amicable or at least begrudgingly tolerable divorce is better for children than remaining in a dysfunctional or abusive household; in response we get airy claims about the "American family unit" from people whose family units seem to have been balls of tightly wadded horrors.
If two married partners believe that they will spend eternity in hell if they divorce each other, then ... don't get divorced?
If one partner believes that, but the other doesn't, aren't you still covered? You got divorced, but it's not your fault! You didn't agree to it! God's not going to send you to hell for something done to you against your will, right? (Save your tittering, Old Testament readers and fig tree lovers.)
And if neither partner believes it, then why should the American legal system be set up to enforce the "going to hell" version on either of them? Why does any of this matter? What kind of person actively seeks to turn the legal system on its head and escalate the number of murders and suicides in order to enforce their own personal religious beliefs on the people in the most danger?
What I have never seen a national media outlet do is attempt to connect the dots and present us with a "why" of the anti-birth-control or anti-divorce or other allegedly religion-premised movements that is not either fluffy faith-based unprovables or movement-peddled faux science. There's no CNN or Washington Post feature story speculating on the religious conservative crowd's actual motives.
But the odds are good that this is all exactly what it looks like. Religious conservatives do not want it to be so easy for women to leave violent marriages because "the Bible" says women should be subject to such violence, if their husband is displeased with them. Religious conservatives do not want birth control to exist because they do not believe women do have a right to engage in sex outside of marriage, and the existence of reliable, medical birth control has nearly erased the tool those religious groups have for centuries used to identify and shame and ruin the lives of those "harlots."
Either declaration is likely to be met with a whole lot of outraged bluster, but that is how discourse works. A supposition that religious conservatives actively seek to harm women on God's supposed say-so can hardly be any more controversial a hypothesis than evasive muttering about the sanctity of the "American family unit."
If Trumpism is premised mostly on authoritarianism and xenophobic paranoia, religious fundamentalism seems premised mostly on enabling and enforcing abusive relationships—on oppression as an alleged article of proving "faith." It is universal; all religious fundamentalism is premised on an alleged right to do harm to other groups if those other groups have it coming. And no, I don't think the media will be calling that out anytime soon.
But the rest of us can say it out loud: Anti-divorce, anti-birth-control, anti-20th-century zealots base their religious beliefs around a supposed right to harm people. It's not enough for them to live according to their own beliefs: You must also live by those beliefs, or they—as business owners, as community members, or as a spouse—are allowed to hurt you until you do.
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